The Roundup -

DEQ Holds TENORM Forum in Sidney


September 27, 2017 | View PDF

Susanne Beug, of Red Lodge, on behalf of the Northern Plains Oil and Gas Taskforce, speaks at the public hearing, encouraging tougher written restrictions on waste disposal sites.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held a public hearing on Wednesday, September 20, at the MonDak Heritage Center in Sidney. The DEQ hosted the hearing to inform the public regarding proposed waste management rule changes for Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM).

Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) is any substance that contains radioactive isotopes, and it is regularly present in different kinds of common rocks and soil. TENORM is radioactive material that has been concentrated in larger-than-ordinary amounts as a byproduct of mineral extraction. TENORM is not nuclear waste, but may still potentially expose humans to particles dangerous to their physical wellbeing. In Montana, TENORM waste disposal facilities are regulated by a number of legal codes for environmental protection and waste control under state – and not federal – jurisdiction.

The Montana Environmental Protection Act requires public participation in the DEQ evaluation of disposal sites, and fulfilling that legal obligation, the DEQ sought comments from the public regarding the adoption of a new subchapter relating to TENORM administrative-wide policy. Although there is currently only one such disposal site in Eastern Montana, located at the Oak's facility near Glendive, there is a demand for more sites but no statewide administrative rules governing TENORM waste specifically. A number of residents spoke to these proposed changes.

The Roundup spoke to Ed Thamke, the Waste Underground Tank Management Bureau Chief for the DEQ, who explained the changes, saying, "The whole idea with the proposed rule making for TENORM is to provide a regulatory structure that is specific to that kind of waste management. There's a well established policy for normal solid waste management, like landfills, but every now and then a new waste stream comes up that isn't already specified in policy."

Thamke reiterated that the proposed changes will be applying very similar rules already included in the specific license issued to the Glendive TENORM facility, but will make it an administrative, state-wide policy that will be enforced widely instead of on a case-by-case basis. This is important, according to Thamke, because there is a demand for more TENORM facilities and it will require clear administrative guidelines.

"When the Bakken boom happened, we found a situation where waste was being imported into Montana because our regulatory structure allowed it. So, there became a demand to manage this sort of waste. We did have standards for TENORM, but it was a part of the operating license for the [Glendive] facility, and not in the administrative rules. The main point is so that people who want to manage such a facility know what will be required of them, and not vary from site to site."

Thamke continued, "We have two other facilities that have been licensed, but not constructed yet, and have a third license request in Eastern Montana as we speak. One location is in Culbertson, another near Bainville, and an environmental assessment is now being conducted near Sidney."

The hearing to discuss these proposed changes to DEQ policy began at 7 p.m. and lasted for nearly two hours, with Jeni Garcin – a DEQ officer – leading the meeting with an explanation of rules and introduction of the topic. Many Eastern Montana residents gave comment, most in favor of proposed rules and many asking that the rules be tightened even further than proposed.

Rachel Torres, of Glendive, urged DEQ to be proactive in protecting Montana resources. Torres claimed that Buckhorn Energy, which owns the Oaks Disposal site in Glendive, does ground-testing four times a year already, but still has concerns. Torres said, "I have several thoughts about this. If it's already being done, why wouldn't it be written into the rules already? Secondly, if the company is hiring someone to do the testing, they're still on the company's payroll. Other states have the company pay DEQ, who then hires a truly independent company to do the testing."

Ali Davis, another resident of Glendive, also spoke of his concerns. Davis, who is now an employee of the railroad, says he once had a career in waste testing and he has concerns with exactly how well the site is being tested and reiterated safety concerns for employees as well as residents, "We're all concerned about water, for surrounding farmers and ranchers. But, I'm also worried about the workers. I think it's good that the rules included would provide radiation training. They may outsource that to another company, but how do you know that company has properly trained their employees to do it?"

Robert Morris, who said he spent his career doing radiological control, works for the Oaks TENORM facility as a consultant. He claimed that both he and the facility itself are in favor of the proposed changes.

"My first ethical obligation is to assist human health and the environment. Having said that, I work for Oaks Landfill and both Oaks and myself support the rules. There are already guidelines, and these rules are similar to the existent guidelines."

Morris continued, "All measurements need to be done with a quality assurance plan and they need to be accurate. We also need fence line monitoring to assure that neighbors don't have excessive exposure to radiation. And third, we need to monitor the exposure of the workers."

Donna Quick, from southeast of Circle, said, "I am very pleased with the rule process as it has been done. Many years ago, my late husband and I determined how precious water is to our lives and resources, and how water is now and would become increasingly important. I would like to ask the DEQ to give careful consideration to all of the testimony you've received tonight."


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